All posts tagged: American landscape

A Photograph and a Painting: William Henry Jackson, Thomas Moran, and Capturing Yellowstone Vistas

  William Henry Jackson is one of the best-known photographers of the nineteenth-century, publishing images of the Yellowstone wilderness as a member of the government-sponsored Hayden Survey before it was a national park and documenting the White City during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition for tourists and posterity. He became a legendary figure in the narrative of National Park history, and living to almost one hundred years, served as a link between the twentieth-century obsession with the west and the myth of the frontier. Through the antebellum era there was a widespread assumption that the West was uninhabitable for “civilized men.”[1] It was too desert-like to be worthwhile. Eventually, this belief gave way to a large-scale welcoming of frontier expansion by the general population for Euro-American settlers as a result of conclusions derived under the directorship of Ferdinand V. Hayden (1829-1887) during the U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories. These surveys helped to “[destroy] the myth of the desert and legislat[e] the myth of the garden in its stead.”[2] Hayden approached Jackson in …

NIGHTSCAPES at Longwood Gardens or, Thinking About the Ways We Use Landscape (Again)

Something interesting happened this weekend. I watched landscapes transform in front of my eyes. I witnessed trees alter their purpose to enfold new meanings. I visited Longwood Gardens’ Nightscape, an artistically-driven exhibit that interlaces light and color with the foliage after dark. [Watch the Nightscapes trailer] During the show (which in July begins at 9:30 P.M., August at 9:00 P.M. and September at 8:30 P.M.), the visitor can start at one of four sites on the grounds: the large lake on the east end, the flower garden walk, the topiaries in the center, or the conservatory on the west side of the park. In total, there are nine separate viewing locations. Longwood Gardens is located in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, a short drive from Philadelphia. After a long, partially sunny/somewhat drizzly day of trekking through meadows, exploring coniferous groves, and peering into the faces of blossoms, we relaxed a bit at the outdoor beer garden, specifically established for the run of the exhibit. Cold drinks in hand and bluegrass in the air, we were excited and …

How Do Landscapes ‘Work?’ (Part 1)

I think about landscapes… a lot. I think about what we do on them, how we name them, the ways we reproduce them as images in song and canvas. I think about how we move between them. I think about the methods we use to divide them. I think about the layers of history that are identified with landscapes that create deep and emotional meaning. I think about how we separate ourselves on them – how we split as individuals and as groups. I think about what we do to manipulate landscapes to serve our cultural and political purposes. I think about what we do to keep people away from particular landscapes to “preserve” its integrity. I think about the love, fear, anxiety, and spirituality connected with the landscapes we inhabit – and even the ones we do not. As I write this I look out to a sea of green beyond my home office window, where I purposely placed my desk to seek academic and spiritual inspiration during my workdays. The window is open …

A Few Days at Mount Rainier, A Mind Transformed

Life is at its best when a person is seized by an experience or idea that completely alters everything that came before. These moments are few and rare, which is why they work so beautifully. On top of this, the moments do not always occur as a result of a major Hollywood-worthy event, but may be a result of a simple look up. A complete alteration in the way I think about the world happened almost two weeks ago and the disruptor is called Rainier. My consort and I planned a trip to the west coast months ago. The convenience of attending WAWH 2015 in Sacramento followed by a travel break before a summer studying for the comprehensive exam was just irresistible. It is not our style to relax on the beach with a Mexican-style lager in hand (though, we have fond memories of deflating ourselves along the sandy shores of Virginia for a week at a time), but found that travel – real exploration of a particular area – is what we like best. …

“From Stars to Microbes:” The Natureness of Nature

“What is nature?” This may seem like a strange question. It is early spring in Pennsylvania and you would be hard pressed to find someone who is not talking about or thinking about nature in some manner these days. “The weather is beautiful today!” “Oh awesome – I can’t wait to go for a bike ride after work.” “Do you want to go to dinner where we can sit outside?” “Yes! Definitely. Let’s go to that restaurant with the great tree in the backyard.” “I am so happy that my bulbs are finally appearing. I love spring.” Ok. OK. So, I made these conversations up on the fly. But I guarantee someone in PA is saying something like this right now. I have the “what is nature” question on my mind often these days because it is the driving force behind my academic work. So, out of curiosity, I posted the question to my Facebook friends this afternoon in a seriously unofficial “poll.” The first answer appeared within seconds from a long-time friend: “Bugs!” I …

“Trees and the Wild”: Matt Pond, the American Pastoral and the Sublime [Condensed Version]

*The article below is a shortened version of a conference paper of the same name that I presented at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference held in New Orleans, LA on April 4, 2015. Additionally, the presentation is portion a longer work exploring the role of musicians in the twenty-first century speaking to the idea of the landscape in American culture. Scholars show that American culture, in part, developed around the people’s reaction to nature and the wilderness. Americanist Henry Nash Smith describes the pull of the frontier in Virgin Land (1950), Perry Miller depicts a nature-manipulated change in the Puritan mind in Errand into the Wilderness (1956), and cultural variations are explored in Roderick Frazier Nash’s meticulous search for American interpretation and interaction with the outdoors in Wilderness and the American Mind (1965). This nature-driven response permeates American cultural production. American nature, and the wilderness, serves as an unavoidable topic of discussion when asking the question, “Who – or what – is America?” In the nineteenth century, Ralph Waldo Emerson reflected on …

Some Thoughts on the Landscape in American Culture

Rarely do humans stop thinking about nature for large swaths of time. More specifically, we continually think about the landscape – what it looks like, what is on it, and our interaction with it. Sometimes we desperately pull ourselves toward the landscape, as if its power could make us whole. Other moments we push and push and push away, settling our gaze on human-made artifacts embedded with promises of physical and mental improvements. Maybe we can transcend our humanity for true perfection. Either way, we define our place in the world in relation to the land we walk upon. The push-pull underscores human history and its future. Who are we? Where do we live? What are our limits? How can we burst through those restrictions? To say Americans have an affinity for the natural world may be an understatement. The first settlers and explorers arrived with the belief that the land was a wilderness. (Though, before we raise criticism and remind ourselves that there were thousands of humans living in the Western hemisphere, remember that …